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Boycott opens the batting for his future

Sue Mott

There is a lot to be said for Geoffrey Boycott and Geoffrey Boycott is unashamedly saying it. Everywhere. He is on with Sir David Frost tomorrow morning, was on Radio Leeds on Thursday, is lined up for BBC World next week and he has turned those wide, grieving, innocent blue eyes on more (funnily enough, female) journalists this week than he probably has in all his 58 years.

The gist, if I may summarise, is: ''I didn't 'it 'er.'' And for what it's worth, given that only two people will ever know with certainty, I want to believe him.

What is undeniable is Boycott's outrage. He has been convicted of raining more than 20 blows on his former lover, Margaret Moore, during an argument at a swish hotel in the South of France. He then mounted a swish appeal, complete with 13 witnesses and went noisily potty at the French proceedings which upheld his guilt. He certainly did not think much of that mini-skirted French judge.

''Who gave me one like that, for Chrissake?'' he lamented.

And so, it is fair to deduce, he is opening his case to the British public rather than face another trial by jewellery in France. The same British public who have always been stirred by him into some sort of violent reaction, be it passionate support of cussed virtues at the crease or passionate dislike of his self-centred truculence.

Nothing else would seem to explain his new revelatory mood after all those years of implying we could all booger off and mind our own business. The new Geoffrey, in his soft green Boss jacket and softer, pinker, more vulnerable, image, is a sight to behold. And it is drinking a glass of red wine, all smiles and apparent frankness, alongside Rachel Swinglehurst, the mother of his 10-year-old daughter Emma Jane, at a brasserie in Leeds (swish again - I'm paying) where we meet.

But is this the real Boycott or a cunning public relations exercise to rehabilitate the offender? Rachel is compelling evidence for a start. Devoutly supportive, and often giving him a good pat, rub or squeeze of affection, she cites her 23 years of acquaintance with Boycott to scotch any notion that he is violent, rude, selfish, arrogant, egotistical or mean. ''Mean!'' she expostulated. ''D'you know there's a story that when Ken Barrington died on the England tour of the West Indies in 1981, Geoffrey asked if he could have Ken's first-class ticket home!''

''It's roobish,'' added Boycott. ''England never travelled first class.''

Most definitely real is his dudgeon, as high and fierce as a West Indian bouncer. There was a point, after the creme brulee, where having exhausted every last nuance of his farcical trial, Ms Moore's personality, his deep well of frustration, his mum, his dad and his Auntie Annie on whose television he used to watch Muffin the Mule with his brother, he suddenly burst out: ''Tell me, tell me... how do I clear my name! How do I get work!''

That was real.

He is transparently aghast that instead of being in Australia as a columnist/commentator of great repute (and remuneration), venting his bombast on the England Test team, he is at home in Wakefield fighting for his life.

This is his greatest reversal. He has been sacked by the Sun, appears unemployable as a commentator, save for his newly-announced contract with Talk Radio, and his name has been blackened as a criminal. And, it must be added, the great brotherhood of cricket, which he has occasionally scorned, criticised, traduced, run out and scored 48,426 first-class runs against (1962-86), have not been unanimously loud in his support.

Actually, people may be sneakily enjoying his first brush with the concept of humility.

Geoffrey (no fussy middle names) Boycott was necessarily self-centred at his birth in the Yorkshire pit village of Fitzwilliam in 1940 and nothing seems to have changed him in that respect since. He lived with his mum until he was nearly 40. Compromise and modesty are alien to him. He is the centrifugal force, around which swirls controversy, cricket and a love life of such complication that he himself struggles to find the correct description. ''What's the word?'' he said. ''My private life is not... conventional. But that doesn't make it wrong or bad. It's just different. I'm au fait with the people in my life. That's Ann Wyatt [12 years his senior, whom he met when working as a teenager at the National Insurance and Pensions office in Barnsley and who now, perhaps understandably, lives a quiet life in Poole], Rachel Swinglehurst and my daughter, right?''

Right.

If only he could have sorted that judge as well. ''The frustration! For nine hours and 10 minutes it drove me crackers. I couldn't understand 80 per cent of it. It was all in bloody French. I'm waiting there wondering what the hell they were saying and it's my life! I knew chuff all what was happening. Then the interpreter would turn to me and ask me something and I'd forgotten what the hell I was talking about. You can't put across to people the difficulty, the stupidity of it.

''It was medieval, it was archaic, it was such a farce.'' It is difficult in mere words to conjure Boycott's incandescent ire. His eyes flashed behind their blue contact lenses, his hands described loops of irrepressible angst and every syllable was boomed in stentorian Yorkshire. For a minute, you feel compelled to agree with him that for the French to conduct their business in French is a preposterous disgrace.

''The evidence is overwhelming. If I'd 'it 'er 20 times, she would've been pulped. She would have been carried out on a stretcher. Maybe it would've been better if I'd cried on television like Paul Gascoigne and said I did it. I'd have been fine, wouldn't I?

''There's something wrong here. I don't care if you don't like my cricket, don't like my commentating, don't like me, there is something radically wrong and I think most of the British public can see it.

''I don't agree with violence between two men, let alone towards a woman. I've never been in a punch-up. Never hit a man. I don't have a history of violence. We took my Scotland Yard report. It's blank. I've been in the public eye since 1962 with Yorkshire and England, that's 37 years. If anything had surfaced it would have been known.

''Jesus Christ, there's been nothing. There's been other cricketers involved in fights, pub brawls and drugs. But where has there been one of those with me. No incident at all. Violence to women is unacceptable. Of course it is. But I shouldn't have to say so. I shouldn't have to defend myself.''

Perhaps only once before has he known such devastation. When he learnt, because he had to squint to read the blackboard at school, that he needed glasses. He played football for the Leeds United under-18s, rugby in the morning, cricket in the afternoon and got cramp every evening at the pictures.

''I've seen every John Wayne movie there is.'' Suddenly everyone was calling him four-eyes.

''My world had fallen in. How d'you play cricket and football in glasses? I was so down, crying at night - I just couldn't handle it - that my Uncle Algie came into the kitchen one night and gave me a real bollocking, a real dressing down with words I didn't think me Uncle Algie knew. He said if I'd got any guts at all, any character, I'd pick myself up. He told me to write to Mike Smith of Warwickshire and England who wore glasses himself.

''I did and I got a nice letter in reply, telling me to get rimless, splinter-proof glasses. I kept that letter for years. It's sad, I don't know where the hell it is, I seem to have misplaced it.''

This is quintessential Boycott. To be genuinely upset that he has lost a letter sent to him 41 years before, presumably because it related to that subject so dear to his heart, himself. I have never known a man to be so readily equipped with ancient, documentary evidence, the most breathtaking of which was the intricate, statistical note he suddenly produced from one of his zip-up bags, on the Australian bowlers, Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson.

He had compiled this himself, clearly some time ago, in reply to the accusation that he had failed to tour Australia with England in 1974 because he feared the might of Lillee and Thomson. In his meticulous handwriting were the figures 0-100 and 0-10, Thomson's bowling figures in Melbourne against Pakistan in 1972. A big circle was drawn around ''23 months'', the length of time that no word was then heard of Thomson. ''Nearly two years,'' says an emphatic note. And Dennis Lillee: ''Broke down in West Indies, last Test Kingston 16 Feb '73. 0-112, 1-20. Didn't play again for 21 months.''

Ha! That scotches the critics. How could Boycott have known about Lillee and Thomson if neither had moved a predatory muscle for nigh on two years? Boycott must be exonerated from any kind of personality lapse and is, until I phone the oracle of E.W. Swanton, who said that Boycott declined to tour Australia not because of Lillee and Thomson but because he was miffed not to be the England captain.

Clearly, for a man who was the chairman of Melchester Rovers in the Roy of the Rovers comic, Boycott is no cartoon cut-out. Enigmas rage. And, by the way, the former editor of the comic still sends him Christmas cards addressed to GCOE - Greatest Cricketer On Earth. (''I don't think that,'' said Boycott, probably thinking that).

There is the enigma of his reaction to his father's death. His father suffered such a terrible accident down the pit when Geoffrey was 10. ''Some idiot sent these empty coal tubs along the line while my Dad was still working on it at the coal face. Just mangled him up. Broke his back, broke his pelvis, both knees, ruptured his insides. What a mess. It destroyed his life. From then on he was a broken man. He had a rolling, shambling gait instead of being a 6ft 1in upright man. There were just promises, promises from the union but no compensation. He only got a few tomatoes, eggs and apples when people called.

''He died eventually, 17 years later, of a heart attack. I was in the middle of a match at the Oval. It was a Sunday morning in August. They asked me to stay and bat, then go home for the funeral. Again, it was strength of character. I made 70-odd. I can even remember who got me out and who caught me. It was Pat Pocock who got me out, off-spinner, and I was caught by Mickey Stewart, the short leg, who was the Surrey captain.''

The clarity, the detail, the superseding of cricket over every mortal event in his life, they are all classic Boycott traits. ''I always had desire. You've got to want it badly enough. You've got to want it so bad it's the most important thing in your life. You're not going to create that desire if you spend your life down the pub having a drink and a laugh. You've got to want it, to practise, to go to bed and have eight hours' sleep and then be ready for the challenge.''

''It's self-discipline,'' put in Rachel, like a proud mum. ''He's still got it now.''

''And being selfish and single-minded, they're different,'' added Boycott. ''You can start them with the same 'S' but they're very different. You've got to concentrate, get blinkers on, focus on what you want to do.''

When Boycott admits to his faults they are actually his idea of virtues in diaphanous disguise. ''I rub people up the wrong way because I'm not diplomatic. I'm very forceful and frank but it doesn't mean I'm a bad man. You could say half the Northerners are like me. I've never set out to be Jesus Christ. I don't think even my friends, supporters or admirers think that. I just set out to be a decent man.''

Which is more than he can say for certain journalists. At the Sun, for instance. This great organ of moral probity gave him their undertaking in writing that no matter what the verdict of his appeal, they would continue to employ him as a columnist. Then they sacked him. The Mirror reprinted the relevant paragraph with great glee.

''It's a disgrace,'' raged Boycott. ''They take the moral high ground and then they conduct themselves like that. It gives journalists a bad name. They're just trying to curry favour with the women readers. It's patronising to women, that's what it is. As though they haven't got any brains in their head. But women probably see through Margaret Moore, better than us men who've been taken for a ride.

''I say to everybody, I've got nothing to be ashamed of, or embarrassed about. I know I didn't 'it 'er, so I'm not going to hide in shame.'' Plus saying this, roughly 4,000 times in a week, is certainly cheaper than going back to appeal in France.

''I'm not mean,'' he said, taking up this recurring cudgel. ''I may not spend twenty quid in a bar but I spend it on luxuries I enjoy. I've got nice jackets that I need for TV. This one's a Boss. And I wear Versace, Armani. I've got a nice car, a BMW. And I wear nice shoes, I like shoes,'' he said, whipping off his Italian brown loafers to show me the label.

Perhaps we can categorically say the man is not mean to himself.

So how convincing is Boycott, the remake? Well, if his anger isn't real, he's a better actor than John Wayne. But you can't help feeling that he and Rachel are slavering a fair bit of Vaseline on the lens if we are expected to believe he's a kind old selfless softie with an introversion problem.

While I paid the bill, Boycott was still raging: ''I feel it's unfair when I've worked so damn hard...'' I was struck by a sudden vision. This is the former England batsman at his new crease. He is padded up with fury and revved up by need and he is going to stay there in all his bloody-minded glory, prodding question after question after question, until his bruised reputation is repaired. I promise you, as in the past, he'll be the last man standing.

Source :: Electronic Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk)

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